Brian Butterfield began admiring the Boston Red Sox’s gray road uniforms when he was a youngster watching Red Sox games on TV.
The Orono native will be putting on his gray uniform as the first-year third base coach and infield instructor for the Red Sox when they take on the New York Yankees in Monday’s 1:05 p.m. season opener in the Bronx.
“I love those grays,” Butterfield said Tuesday from the team’s spring training home in Fort Myers, Fla.
Butterfield called them “work clothes” and is a fan of their simplicity.
He said he is enjoying his time with his new club after spending the previous 11 years with Toronto, where he also was happy.
Former Toronto manager John Farrell was hired as the new Red Sox manager in October and he tapped Butterfield, who had worked for him during the two seasons he managed the Blue Jays.
Former Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo joined Boston and will serve as the bench coach.
“It has been a very easy transition,” said Butterfield, a former three-sports star at Orono High School who now lives in Standish. “You never know what to expect in these situations. I knew John and Torey Lovullo.
“We had organizational meetings in January in Boston and it was very helpful. We had a chance to meet the people who work upstairs and all the people within the organization. It was especially productive for people who were new to the organization.”
Spring training also has been productive, said Butterfield, who has been pleased with the attitudes of the newcomers as well as the veterans.
“I’ve been very impressed with everybody’s approach. Everybody has been working hard. It’s a good group of guys,” said Butterfield. “The fur hasn’t started flying for real yet but I feel confident about this group. With the high-character guys we have, I think we’ll be very competitive.”
Butterfield said he was flattered to be compared to Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia in an October article in bostonherald.com when John Tomase wrote, “A well-regarded infield instructor, Butterfield brings an enthusiasm and intensity to the job rivaled perhaps only by Dustin Pedroia on the Sox roster.”
“That tickled me because, being on the other side, I had always always held [Pedroia] in high regard,” Butterfield said. “He’s one of the torchbearers in the league by the way he plays the game and respects it. He’s even better as a player and a person than I thought he was. He comes to the ballpark with his hair on fire every day and he makes the people around him better.”
Butterfield’s energy and passion for the game were noted by Farrell even before he worked for him.
“When you sit across the field 18 times from him and see how he interacts with players, his decision-making in the third base box and the energy in which he carries himself, those were evident even without knowing him as a person,” said Farrell in a story in WEEI.com. “He’s positive. He always looks for ways to make a positive impact on a player, whether it’s with a fundamental technique or talking through the game about challenges they might encounter. He is one of the most prepared coaches I’ve ever been around. The amount of time and energy he puts into video review and the attention to detail was evidenced by the number of over-shifts we employed in Toronto. And he has a creative mind which he carried to the personnel we had.”
He added that Butterfield keeps notes on every ballpark to help the players both offensively and defensively.
Butterfield’s passion for the game was fueled by his father, the late Jack Butterfield.
Jack Butterfield was the head baseball coach at the University of Maine from 1957 to 1974, and he coached his son when he was the starting second baseman his freshman year.
Jack Butterfield left the next year to become the coach at the University of South Florida in Tampa and Brian departed to play at Valencia Community College for a year before spending two seasons at Florida Southern.
His father took a front-office job with the Yankees and was the vice president of player development and scouting when he died in an auto accident in 1979.
“My dad has been my biggest influence,” said Butterfield, who was UMaine’s bat boy when he was 6 years old at the 1964 College World Series. He used to go on road trips with the team from time to time. “It was a blessing to be around him.
“He was a great leader. He was fair but firm and I’m really thankful to have that type of upbringing,” said Butterfield, who spent a lot of time developing his skills in football, basketball and baseball with his father.
“I always loved being around sports. You didn’t have to push me or prod me. I was always thinking about sports. I would have trouble concentrating in class because I’d be thinking about my next game. It has always been a big part of my life.”
Butterfield began his coaching career in the New York Yankees organization in 1984 after playing in the minor leagues with the Yankees (four years) and San Diego Padres (one year).
He spent five years with the Arizona Diamondbacks and returned to the Yankees as a minor league manager before going to Toronto in 2002.
Among the major stories in spring training for the Red Sox are injuries to designated hitter David Ortiz (inflamed heels) and shortstop Stephen Drew (concussion) and the eye-opening performance of 22-year-old outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who is hitting .444 with two homers and 11 runs batted in.
“[Bradley Jr.] has been outstanding. He’s a very instinctive player. He’s a ‘plus’ [better than average] defender. He gets great jumps on the ball,” said Butterfield.
Butterfield said there have been conversations about whether to keep Bradley up with the Red Sox or send him down to Triple-A Pawtucket to get more seasoning as this is only his second full pro season.
“I have no idea how it’s going to break. But when you’re putting a roster together, it doesn’t matter if you have a bunch of 20-year-olds or a bunch of 30-year-olds on it, you’ve got to go with the roster you feel will help you win more games. It’s about winning,” said Butterfield.
He said Drew and Ortiz have been working diligently to be ready for duty as soon as possible.
“They are vital pieces of this team,” said Butterfield.
Jose Iglesias, a 23-year-old who could be the opening-day shortstop, has had a “very good camp offensively and defensively,” according to Butterfield.
“He has a plus arm,” said Butterfield. “He has worked hard.”
Butterfield said all of the coaches “have had a great opportunity to express our opinions about personnel.”
He said he feels fortunate in that he has been treated very well by every organization, including the Red Sox.
“I always thought it was a special organization and now I get to see it firsthand,” said Butterfield.
He is looking forward to the opener and he doesn’t expect to be nervous, “because I’ve been doing it a long time.”
“I’ll be more anxious than anything to see how we do,” said Butterfield. “We’ve had a really good camp.”